This I Believe

Sarah - Moraga, California
Entered on December 16, 2006

A Supplement to Self

I have two favorite photos that mirror one another in appearance— if you ignore the eight year age difference. In the first, I am wearing a poofy white dress, embellished with sparkly beads: my First Communion. In the second photo, I am wearing a similar white dress and my forehand shines with consecrated oil. I have just been Confirmed into the Catholic Church.

The photos look similar, yet are extremely different. My pride is concealed by a gauzy veil in one; my inner thoughts are obscured by expressions of happiness in the other. Looking back on these pivotal moments in my Catholic life, I now know, and fully believe, what I wish I had understood back then— I grow more as an individual when I view religion as a supplement to my core identity, not the entire foundation of who Sarah is.

As a young girl preparing for my First Communion, I was very ignorant to the boundless freedom of one’s beliefs to marinate, evolve, and contradict each other over time. Instead, I was subjected to the belief that there was only one answer to everything in life: an answer derived from the question “What would Jesus do?”, an answer that never changed. In Children’s Liturgy of the Word classes, I was always told to handle situations from Jesus’ perspective and act accordingly, usually by “loving thy neighbor.” Despite the profundity of this simple principle, I was taught that it was the one and only route to happiness and understanding. Because of this, any development of my personal beliefs and decision making was thwarted entirely by the presence of an imposed philosophy. Not until my Confirmation last year did I realize the toll this religious indoctrination had taken on my sense of individualism.

Unlike my First Communion experience which was filled with excitement, though a bit of oblivion, I grappled with feelings of doubt and hypocrisy as I prepared for my Confirmation ceremony. In the previous year, I had been exposed to many more ideas and beliefs both within the classroom and the real world. As a new journalism student, I became more in touch with my true opinions during class discussions and when I wrote pieces for the Commentary section of the newspaper. Much to my surprise, the Catholic views I had previously held in regard to certain controversial issues seemed to be uprooted entirely when I began to question their validity. I discovered that, in direct contrast to the conservative beliefs of Catholicism, I am pro-choice, believe in stem cell research, and fully support gay marriage. When it came to the Confirmation preparation, I felt that, by stating my confirmation into a faith I did not entirely agree with, I would not only put up a facade of true belief, but also compromise the core tenets of who I am. At the time, I was ashamed of my religion and my inability to become in any way detached from it. Only recently have I been able to let my religious teachings and personal beliefs coexist and contradict each other; letting them do so helps me filter out what is right in my mind and further strengthen my values.

Now, I ask “What would Jesus do?” after asking myself “What would Sarah do?” I am asking what my soul wants to do, the most fundamental piece of human identity and of me. I can juxtapose Jesus against myself but, in the end, I will never let my perceptions of him obliterate my quest for personal fulfillment, discovery, and understanding.